GUY RAZ, HOST:
The NFL is on the cusp of determining who will be playing in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Tomorrow on the West Coast, the San Francisco 49ers face the New York Giants, and on the East Coast, the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens. NPR's Mike Pesca is here to preview the matchups. Mike, hello.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
RAZ: Let's talk about the Giants. I'm supposed to be neutral here, Mike, but they're going into this game with a nine and seven record during the regular season. Disgraceful. They do not deserve to be there, Mike, against the 49ers. Are they actually favored to win against them?
PESCA: Disgraceful? Wait. Well, if you factor in the two wins in the playoffs, they have 11 wins, and that compares favorably, to be honest with you.
RAZ: Fair enough.
PESCA: Also, they beat the Packers who were the best team with only one loss in the regular season.
RAZ: That was weird.
PESCA: And I think, you know what, they were the better team last week.
RAZ: They were. They were.
PESCA: They showed that with all their guys healthy - and that's a big difference - they could put pressure on any quarterback. And when they could rattle Aaron Rodgers, Packs' quarterback, in the game, imagine what they're going to do to Alex Smith. He's the San Francisco 49er quarterback, and until this year, he was pretty much viewed as a flop. Jim Harbaugh comes in as coach of the 49ers, gives him a bit of a different playbook. Alex Smith is a smart guy. He majored in econ at Utah, and he knows about pendulums. I think the pendulum has swung very far in the other direction.
But if the - like I said, if the Giants could get after Aaron Rodgers and could cause him to make mistakes, that pressure can be brought to bear on Alex Smith, and that's why this game really is a toss-up according to the people who decide who's the favorites.
RAZ: All right. You've won me over, respect for the Giants. We'll see what happens in that game. Let's go to the other side of the country: the Patriots versus the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots, obviously, hoping to return to their first Super Bowl since 2007. That was the season when they were undefeated, and then, of course, they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants that year. Talk about the Ravens - how much of an obstacle do they represent to the Patriots?
PESCA: Well, the Ravens have a very good defense, and they have, by advance metrics, the number one pass defense in the NFL. However, I would - you know, NFL teams don't play every other team. And among the teams that the Ravens didn't play were the Saints, the Packers, the Patriots. In other words, the great quarterbacks. And when they did play a good quarterback, like Philip Rivers of San Diego, he basically torched them. Whereas on the other side, the Patriots have a really bad defense, and I think the Ravens can do some damage. I think the Patriots are a vulnerable team. I don't know if their vulnerabilities are kind of aligned with the Ravens' strength, if you want to make a case for the Ravens pulling the upset in this game.
RAZ: Mike, I think I know the answer to this, but which matchup would have the most intrigue?
PESCA: Well, of course, you have the Giants and the Patriots...
PESCA: ...like a few years ago, yes. But the Giants also played and lost to the Ravens. So whoever the Giants play, it'll be a rematch. If San Francisco plays the Ravens, that would be the Harbaugh brothers. Brothers had never faced each other as head coaches until they faced earlier this year. I can't even imagine two brothers facing down in a Super Bowl.
RAZ: That's like a Civil War story.
PESCA: Yeah. The country will be so inundated with Harbaugh mania it will be hard to even dig out. So, yeah, no matter what happens, there's going to be a lot of drama, and I'm going to guess, a lot of attention.
RAZ: That's NPR's Mike Pesca on tomorrow's NFL conference championship games. Mike, thanks.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.